Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Man binned CSA letters because he couldn’t read

A man who can't read or write has been found guilty of failing to provide information to the Child Support Agency without reasonable excuse.

Colm Phillips (35) was given a conditional discharge after a judge heard how he binned letters requesting details of his earnings.

Belfast Magistrates Court was told Mr Phillips, a labourer from Juniper Park, Dunmurry, also has learning difficulties and suffers from an severe stammer.

He was prosecuted for ignoring correspondence and reminders sent by the CSA last July and August.

Mr Phillips, who stressed he was not trying to avoid paying child maintenance, gave evidence that he is only able to sign his name. “Most letters I get are not important; I bin them,” he said.

He told defence counsel Sean O'Hare how he only became aware of the Agency's attempts to contact him after his sister spotted a court summons.

During cross examination, prosecuting barrister Kenneth Wilson said: “I'm putting it to you that you actually can read sufficiently to read these letters and you did know you should respond to them but you just chose to ignore them.”

However, Mr Phillips replied: “I'm 35 and I haven't answered a letter in my life.”

His sister Mary Phillips, who deals with official correspondence on his behalf, told how he had suffered embarrassment at his learning difficulties and stammer.

“My brother was moved out of secondary school at the end of first year because of his disability,” she told the court.

She claimed he was put into a special school where the authorities just hoped for the best.

“I know he does have a stammer but you would probably get more information out of Colm over the phone than you would ever get in a letter,” she added.

Despite the defence submissions, District Judge Philip Mateer held that the accused had failed to provide information without reasonable excuse.

Conditionally discharging him for 12 months, Mr Mateer accepted Mr Phillips was unable to understand the correspondence, but said methods to deal with this should have been in place.

“It's an impediment on Mr Phillips’ life that he has not been able to read or write,” the judge remarked. “We all live in a society where demands are made of us by the state. He will be aware the method most commonly used is to send letters.”

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